Buying a used car obviously carries a certain degree of risk. After all, with a new car you get the peace of mind that no one has driven the vehicle carelessly or failed to have it maintained on a regular basis. And, if something does go wrong, the car is under warranty—at least for a period of time. These safeties are not usually included in the purchase of a used car. But used-car buying need not be as fraught with anxiety and terror as some may think. Knowing where and how to buy a used car as well as which cars to buy can alleviate most of the tension consumers feel about this unknown process. If you are willing to spend time doing thorough research, you will soon be driving the car of your dreams, secure in the knowledge that you paid a fair price for your new set of wheels.
CHOOSING A USED CAR
Before you begin your search for a good deal on a used car, spend time considering many of the same factors that would apply to a new car purchase: how will you use the vehicle;
how long do you plan to keep it;
your budget for the purchase, including insurance, operation, maintenance and repair costs.
What kind of car you want
Decide what car best suits your lifestyle and image. Since you could probably be owning and using the same car for many more years, you need to anticipate future needs and lifestyle changes. Today you could easily consider buying a mid-sized car as these cars are available at great bargains.
Narrowing down your dream list is a bit more difficult for used cars than new cars because there are so many more used vehicles. Talk to friends or acquaintances who drive cars that appeal to you; word of mouth is often one of the best ways to gather information about reliability or quirks of certain cars.
How old car is old for you
If Budget is top priority then you rather buy a smaller car that's newer than a large car that's older. Owning a larger car will cost you more as the running costs - fuel, maintenance, tyres, spares are costlier. The best bet is to look for something almost new - Two years or younger. You could get a real good deal because there are plenty of car owners who don't want to be seen in a 'yesterday's model' - they want to be seen driving only latest cars. Buying a middle-aged car ( 3 - 5 years old ) that has been treated well by its owner could be a great deal. You could find a lot of these cars at a good bargain. Cars that have logged 10,000 to 15,000 Km a year are prime buys. Cars flogged badly by chauffeurs or heavily used ones are like buying trouble.
Odometer readings can be rolled back, or "clocked." This fraud is practiced by thousands of fly-by-night, independent used-car sellers nationwide. The effect is obvious: a high-mileage car is turned into a low-mileage car to increase the car’s value. A car with low mileage, but with a lot of wear on the driver's seat or the brake and accelerator, may indicate tampering with the odometer.
INSPECTING A USED CAR
Take a longish Test Drive
It is wise to make the test drive last longer than 15 minutes, so that the car is thoroughly heated up. In fact, stretch out the test drive for as long as possible. The car should start easily and without excessive noise. Once the car has warmed up, listen for engine noise as you drive; unusual sounds may be signs of major trouble. Watch for unusual vibrations or odors.
Take help of the mechanic you or your friend can trust. If you’re shopping at a dealership, do not have the dealership’s service department conduct this inspection; they’re not exactly an unbiased third party. Tell the independent mechanic that you are considering purchasing the vehicle, and have them check everything out and jot down on paper any problems they may find. If anything suspicious turns up, ask for a repair estimate. If the problem sounds too complex or too expensive to deal with, don’t buy the car. If the problem is relatively minor but will still require attention, take the printed statement to the seller and use it as a bargaining chip for a better price.
Things you can look into
BODY - look for rust, particularly at the bottoms of fenders, around lights and bumpers, on splash panels, under doors, in the wheel wells, and under trunk carpeting. Small "blisters" may indicate future rust sites. Check for paint that does not quite match, gritty surfaces, and paint overspray on chrome-all possible signs of a new paint job, masking body problems. Look for cracks, dents, and loose bumpers-warning signs of a past accident.
TIRES - Uneven wear on the front tires usually indicates either bad alignment, or front suspension damage. Do not forget to check the condition of the spare tire.
DOORS, WINDOWS, TRUNK LID - Look for a close fit and ease of opening and closing. A door that fits unevenly may indicate that the car was involved in a collision.
WINDOW GLASS AND LIGHTS - Look for hairline cracks and tiny holes.
TAILPIPE - Black, gummy soot in the tailpipe may mean worn rings, or bad valves, and expensive repairs.
SHOCK ABSORBERS - Lean hard on a corner of the car and release; if the car keeps rocking up and down, the shocks may need replacing.
FLUIDS - Oil that is a whitish color, or has white bubbles, can be a sign of major mechanical problems. Check the radiator fluid; it should not look rusty. With the engine idling, check the transmission fluid; it should not smell rancid, or look dark brown. Check for leaks and stains under the car, on the underside of the engine, and around hoses and valve covers.
LIGHTS AND MECHANICAL PARTS - Make sure all headlights, taillights, brake lights, backup lights, and direction signals work properly. Test the radio, heater, air conditioner, and windshield wipers.
INTERIOR - Check the upholstery for major wear and tear; do not forget to look under floor mats and seat covers. Check the steering wheel; unlocked, with the engine off, it should have no more than two inches of "play." A car with low mileage, but with a lot of wear on the driver's seat or the brake and accelerator, may indicate tampering with the odometer. A musty smell inside the vehicle could mean that the car was damaged in a flood, or that rain leaks inside the car.